Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Thoughts of a Guide Dog: Leif and the treat mine

Life as a guide dog can be hectic.

Recently I have had to retrain William in his use of positive reinforcement.

William, over the eighteen months we have been working together had become prettylazy about offering treats. Instead of rewarding often he began only offering a treat after we reached a kerbside.

Of course this meant that I was working hard, avoiding the trash cans, lamp=posts and benches as well as the occasional pedestrian and car.

Now as a guide dog, I can't just say, "Hey Bud! Give more treats, dude."

We guide dogs don't work that way. It is not our nature. So, How did ?I show my disappointment in the situation? I sniffed.

Sniif a bush. Sniff a fire hydrant. Sniff a tree. My irritation knew no bounds.

Then Came a visit from a Guide Dogs for the Blind trainer. William pointed out "my" problem. Typical human, His problem is MY problem. But.

Easily resolved said the trainer, offer more treats more often. Reward only the good behavior not the bad.

Well I sat through that lesson with a rising heart. More treats. Treats for all my good work. Treats are great for encouraging  a guide dog.

Well  now I have to say, my life is easier. William gets into the treat thing pretty well. I get rewarded all the time. Now my life is less hectic. No more looking for places to sniff. Now my life is hectic in my driving to the next treat.

Fire hydrants, lamp-posts and benches are no longer sniff points they are possible treats mines. Avoid them and do so with gusto and I get a treat.

So tip to all those with a guide dog out there and in particular to you guides. Make every situation a treat mine.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Braille Assessment

My first lesson in Braille was shall we say an "eye opener."

What did we do?

First my instructor went through the letters in Braille on a large model of a Braille cell. The dots were modelled by table tennis balls on a rectangular piece of wood.

Following that my instructor checked my fingers for sensitivity.  This was done by having me tell him how many lines of Braille dots I could feel. He actually suggested there were just two lines, I thought there were three lines and said so. He agreed, the suggestion was just that, a trick to see if I would just agree to pass the test.

Then finally he showed me what a real Braille text feels like.

Were there any surprises for me?

There was one really big surprise for me. I had come across braille on items such as hotel room numbers or the odd gift card like Starbucks which sometimes have Braille lettering on them. There the Braille is widely spaced and quite easy to feel. 

A real Braille book is very densely packed though. there seems so little space between letters it almost seems that there is just one stream of dots with no distinguishing features or breaks.

I can say right now my estimation of Braille readers has gone way up, I had imagined it pretty easy, just like reading with eyes, but I cannot imagine reading even printed matter that is so densely packed.

My instructor, Paul, said that pretty much every adult who has been sighted and whom he has taught has a similar experience. Often the experience is compounded with a fear of failing, I had felt this too, though I didn't mention this. The world of Stage one Braille is a large one, twenty six letters, symbols for capital letters and punctuation as well as numbers to learn.

Where from Here?

Now I have to wait for my Braille textbook to arrive and we will begin more formal lessons, learning the alphabet.

I did get to try out some of the initial lesson from the book yesterday. The letters a through e. I also got to read a very simple set of words in Braille. We did this in a sort of spelling bee style.

I would find the word, say it, spell it out and repeat the word again.  Bear in mind though we are talking of sentences like "The cat, sat on the mat." But in the end I was happy, I could read simple words like ; cab, ace and bee.

Now for my first assignment. Wait for the textbook.

Would anyone have any experiences of learning Braille that they would like to share?

Please feel free to tell me about them in the comments section.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I am Going to Learn Braille

Since losing my sight I have often  been asked by people, "Do you read Braille?" It is as if they think blind people instantly know how to read Braille as a sort of gift in return for having no sight.

I have until now only been able to answer , "No. I have never been taught to read Braille."

Well next week I begin to take official lessons in  how to read using Braille texts.

For those who do not know, Braille is named after  Louis Braille a blind man who lived in France at the turn of the Eighteenth Century. He came across messaging system used in the French Napoleonic Army of the day which allowed officers to receive and send reports in the field to be read at night using a system of raised dots on hard paper. The millitary system was complex and cumbersome, but  Louis worked to simplify and adapt it to make it usable for blind people. The current system uses a series of six dots placed in a grid to denote various letters, numbers and identifying symbols.

While many people may say reading Braille is less important today as we have all the adaptive technology that helps us read and transmit our ideas, I have felt that there is always a need to learn older technologies too. After all I learned to write with pen and paper and still it is often the easiest way to pass on an idea, rather than whipping out a phone to dictate an e-mail or voicemail.

Braille will be a useful extra tool, after all some stores like Starbucks have Braille on their gift cards, no need in future for me to pull out a handful of cards and hand them to an embarassed barista asking him or her to pick out the correct card for me. Restaurants also still have Braille Menu's no need to ask my wife to use her choosing time to help me, when I can help myself.

And that is what all this is all about. Finding a way to help ourselves, be independent and live a fuller life for ourselves and allow those around us to live their lives to the fullest too.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Have a Laugh With SIRI

One of my major hobbies at the moment is listening to the radio.

Earlier today I was listening to the B.B.C. on my iPad and there was a program describing the history of the robot in the cinema and comparing this with the reality of robotics  in science.

But in the midst of a quite serious programme came a brief respite. If you have an iPhone or iPad with Siri, try asking your favourite computer aide  to complete  the following task:

"Open the pod bay doors Hal."

Seems the geeks at Apple have a sense of humor and know the script of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 A Space Oddessy. I tried also asking what to do about Klingon's on the starboard bow, but it seems Cuppertino's best are not Trekkies.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Wow A Quarter of the Year Gone!

Wow Folks. A quarter of the year has gone by already and this is about my first post since 2015 began.

I promise you all has been well and the only reason for my lack of posts this year is just that I have been very busy.

The end of last year saw me taking up some independent living skills (ILS) lessons, these took up one day per week. I have learned some new things like cooking and cleaning house. Learning to cook again was possibly the best thing. Blindness had brought with it a terror of the cooker, hot plates and ovens are pretty scary when you can't see them. But with the addition of a bump dot or two and a patient teacher things come together in a nice meal.prepared by yours truly. Those ILS classes are now coming to an end.  But I cannot really explain fully what a difference they have made to my life in general.

I also took on a more active role in my membership of my local California Council for the Blind chapter here in Fresno.

In addition to continuing my part time work at my local library, I taught a U.S. Citizenship Preparation class at my local community college, the class went well and was a great deal of fun for all.

Then last but not least, I took a new hobby which shocked some of my wife's friends and family, but one which I enjoy very much. Fencing. More of my new hobby in later posts.